LEWISBURG — It’s been a decade or longer since Tri-County North’s boys’ basketball team has posted a winning record.
With Saturday’s (Feb.3) win over National Trail (62-51), the Panthers secured their first winning season since the early-to-mid-2000’s, according to North coach Joe Smith — although Smith said he wasn’t clear on the exact season.
Although a conference title is unlikely, this year’s team still has several goals it wants to achieve.
North, now 12-4 overall and 5-2 in the Cross County Conference, is looking to be one of the best teams in school history and make a run in the postseason.
“I still feel like we haven’t played our best. I think we’re right there on the verge. I think we are starting to click at the right time. I think this team has the potential to have a nice little run,” Smith said. “Right now, the kids are focused on the conference games. They said they want to be the best team here at North, ever.”
With the win over Trail and wins over Milton-Union (59-45) on Tuesday, Jan. 30 and Mississinawa Valley (66-59) on Friday, Feb. 2, the Panthers have now won five straight games.
With two more wins, North will match its win total for the past four seasons combined.
“We’re on a pretty good streak,” Smith said.
North jumped out to an early lead over the visiting Blazers and never trailed. The Panthers extended the lead to 20-plus in the third quarter and withstood a Trail rally in the fourth quarter to hang on for their second win over the Blazers this season.
“It was exactly what I thought it would be. We had a tough game against them the first time. We knew regardless of how big a lead we got they weren’t going to be out of it,” Smith said. “(Trail coach Mike) Harrison’s kids never quit. That’s one thing about him, his kids battle the whole time.”
The Panthers had five players score in double figures. Preston Jackson scored 15, 13 in the second half. Dillon McCullough and Brian Stinson each had 12, while Josh Heindl and Dylan Stinson each tossed in 10.
“Overall, it was what I expected, a tough game,” Smith said. “It always harder to beat somebody two times in a season.”
North opened the week with a win over Milton-Union — a team Smith said they didn’t know much about.
“We came out kind of flat in the first half. We were able to keep the game manageable. In the second half we were able to take control and finish it off,” Smith said.
McCullough scored a game-high 23 points, while Preston Lairson had 19. Brian Stinson chipped in nine.
North led 18-12 after one and 36-21 at the half. The Bulldogs chipped into the North lead by the end of the third as the Panthers led only 45-36.
On Friday, Ethan Bowman kept Mississinawa Valley in the game during the first half, scoring 14 points. North held a slim, 30-29 lead, at the break.
“We couldn’t stop Ethan Bowman. He’s a smart player. The first half, he kept them in it. We never really put the game out of reach. We just made more plays in the fourth (quarter),” Smith said.
North outscored the Blackhawks, 16-13 in the third quarter to take a 46-42 lead.
McCullough paced the Panthers with 24 points. Brian Stinson added 13 and Dylan Stinson contributed 10.
North was scheduled to play Franklin-Monroe on Tuesday, Feb. 9. They are scheduled to host Bradford on Friday and play at Dixie on Saturday.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH